Cezanne marketing scores a home run Art: Hotel packages, ads, souvenirs -- including a baseball -- have helped set a new standard for blockbuster exhibits.

September 01, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF WRITER

At midafternoon in late August, the tables at Le Bec Fin, an elegant French restaurant in central Philadelphia, are still filled with a late-lunch crowd. Over the clatter of dishes, chef-owner Georges Perrier says breathlessly: "It's Cezanne! I usually take vacation in July or August, and this year I couldn't do it.

"I'm exhausted! I am happy!"

For the past few months, that refrain has echoed throughout the city.

"Cezanne" -- the Philadelphia Museum of Art's summer exhibition that today winds up its 15-week run -- has set a new standard for the marketing of an art exhibition. The hoopla surrounding it includes a souvenir baseball sold for $9.50, hotel packages, a children's CD-ROM and a television show. In the last three months, the museum, which ranks with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Washington's National Art Gallery as having the greatest permanent collections of European art on the East Coast, also has attracted more than 700,000 visitors -- in contrast to its average annual attendance of 600,000.

There's nothing new about blockbuster art shows: Museums have been pushing them ever since Thomas Hoving began heavily promoting his big exhibitions at the Met in the 1960s. What has caught the art world's attention, however, is the diversity and pervasiveness of packages, advertisements, souvenirs and promotions that the Philadelphia museum has dangled before the public.

"Our goal is to bring new audiences to the museum," says Laura Asmann Coogan, the museum's deputy manager of media relations. "Our audience should reflect what the world looks like, and if people come because of the hotel packages, or the baseball or an ad in a bus stop, that's great."

To be sure, even without the marketing blitz, "Cezanne" had a lot going for it: It was the first major retrospective of post-impressionist Paul Cezanne's work in 60 years. Before arriving in Philadelphia, the show, which included more than 100 of the artist's paintings and 70 of his works on paper, opened at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and at the Tate Gallery in London. (In Paris, the exhibit drew 600,000 people; in London, it attracted 425,000.)

In both European cities, the show received enthusiastic reviews. By the time "Cezanne" opened in Philadelphia, its only American venue, the buzz had already begun.

Then the museum's marketing campaign went into high gear.

With the help of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the museum formed alliances with 15 hotels. They agreed to offer a night's stay, two Cezanne tickets, transportation passes and two tickets to another cultural institution.

The Philadelphia museum also teamed up with restaurants such as Le Bec Fin to offer either discounts or meals for groups of 15 or more that bought tickets to the art exhibit. Tickets were also sold to those who became members of the museum. The museum alone spent about $350,000 on advertisements that appeared in train stations, bus shelters and the New Yorker magazine and in newspapers in Boston, New York, Washington and Baltimore. (The show's corporate sponsor, credit-card company Advanta, also paid for additional advertising, but would not disclose how much it spent.)

Suddenly, summer in Philadelphia -- usually the slow time for tourism -- boomed. "They go to Cezanne. They go to shop. They go to buy. They go everywhere. It's the name of the game," Perrier says.

"It's the big buzz across the nation," says Beth Blasser Dietrick, marketing and public relations manager at the Walters Art Gallery. "It's the new way in which we are all having to operate not only to make our money go further, but also to generate more interest and involve other institutions so it really spreads around the wealth."

In three months, 550,000 "Cezanne" tickets were sold at $12.50 each. Museum membership swelled by 18,000. As many as 20,000 hotel packages were purchased. And by the end of July, the only way to get tickets was to book a room.

'A mini-vacation'

And still they came. Linda Lawton, a New York landscape architect, and her psychologist cousin from Washington, saw newspaper ads for the Cezanne hotel packages and reserved a room at the Penn Tower Hotel. "We got free parking and free breakfast and tickets. We walked around the city, went out to dinner and went to Cezanne," says Lawton, clutching a shopping bag of Cezanne paraphernalia as she steps from a taxi cab. "It was a mini-vacation."

"Whenever there is a special exhibit, people say, 'How can we get those people who come to the city to come to our restaurants and our stores?' " says R. C. Staab, vice president of tourism for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. "A lot of people are getting a lot of great artist business that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise."

The museum hasn't yet tallied how much money it will make from all this, but last year, when the Barnes Collection exhibition drew 477,000 visitors, the institution made about $7 million.

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